Pruning Peonies

In the world of Peonies, there are three basic types: herbaceous, tree and Itoh. With herbaceous Peonies being perennial, you can trim the foliage or wait until it naturally dies back to the ground in late fall. Tree Peonies, which feature exceptionally large flowers in spring, have woody stems and can grow to 6 ft in height and width; they lose their leaves in the fall and the trunks remain bare in winter months. Intersectional or Itoh Peonies are hybrids that are a cross between herbaceous perennials and tree species. Itoh Peonies bloom later in the spring to early summer and have softer stems that also die back to the ground in late fall. Basic pruning and deadheading maintenance will keep your Peonies growing at their best. 


When to Prune Peonies

The foliage on herbaceous Peonies feeds the underground tubers through photosynthesis to help form next spring's bud formation. Leave the foliage in place from spring until late fall. You can deadhead spent flowers to tidy up the plant during its growing season. With herbaceous Peonies, their foliage will naturally die to the ground in late fall, or after a frost. You can trim the foliage to about an inch above soil level in late fall before Peonies enter winter dormancy. 

Many types of tree Peonies bloom on old wood, so the only reason to prune this variety is to promote a healthy structure and remove any crossing, dead, broken, or diseased branches. Pruning tree Peonies is best done in the early spring. Itoh Peonies will die back to the ground in late fall, so follow the same pruning recommendations as herbaceous varieties. 

Why Prune Peonies

Pruning is important to improve air circulation, prevent mildew, and allow sunlight to reach all areas of the plant. The more sun, the better your Peonies will bloom. Always remove any branches or stems that are noticeably damaged, crossing, or have signs of disease. Discard dead and diseased branches, foliage, and flowers in the trash; never compost them. Deadheading spent flowers will prevent seed formation, stimulating foliar and root growth for the remainder of the season. 


How to Prune Peonies

Step 1 - Always use sterilized pruners when pruning plants. Herbaceous and Itoh Peonies should be cut down to about an inch above ground level in late fall. Tree Peonies can be trimmed in early spring. 

Step 2 - Maintain as much foliage on your Peony plant as possible. Only remove foliage or prune at the proper time of the year for each species, and keep as much foliage on the plant as possible to encourage photosynthesis. 

Step 3 - Deadhead spent flowers during the growing season by snipping off the flower stems.

Peonies Pruning Tips

  • Be mindful of what time of the season to prune your Peony type 
  • Selectively prune only damaged, diseased, or crossing, spindly stems
  • Always use sterilized pruners
  • Discard any foliage, do not compost
  • Herbaceous and Itoh Peonies can be trimmed to an inch above soil level in late fall


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Author Chris Link - Published 02-14-2023